Saudi Arabia: World’s first licensed autonomous air taxi takes flight during Hajj 2024
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Saudi Arabia: World’s first licensed autonomous air taxi takes flight during Hajj 2024

Saudi Arabia: World’s first licensed autonomous air taxi takes flight during Hajj 2024

The autonomous flight was conducted by EHang Holdings in collaboration with Saudi-based Front End

Marisha Singh
air taxi EHang

EHang Holdings’ EH216-S, the world’s first licensed autonomous air taxi, took its maiden flight on June 12, in the holy city of Mecca.

This pilotless electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle transported Hajj pilgrims, marking a significant milestone in the advancement of aerial mobility in Saudi Arabia, noted the Chinese firm.


Advanced air mobility

The autonomous flight, conducted by EHang Holdings in collaboration with Saudi-based Front End, is part of Saudi Arabia’s broader initiative to integrate Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) solutions into its transportation network.

This initiative aligns with the country’s Vision 2030 national programme, aimed at fostering a “Connected Kingdom” and establishing Saudi Arabia as a hub for innovative transportation solutions in the Middle East.

“This debut flight of the EH216-S pilotless eVTOL in Saudi Arabia marks a significant milestone in EHang’s ongoing internationalisation and an important step forward in propelling global advanced UAV reform,” said Huazhi Hu, founder, CEO, and chairman of EHang.

GACA support for air taxi firms

The event saw the attendance of prominent Saudi officials, including Saleh Al-Jasser, Minister of Transport and Logistics Services of Saudi Arabia, and Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).

Al-Duailej highlighted the significance of this trial, stating, “The trial marks a major advancement in integrating Advanced Air Mobility solutions into Saudi Arabia’s aviation landscape.”

Front End Limited Company, a local partner assisting EHang in navigating the Saudi market, played a crucial role in the trial, as per the official statement by EHang. The collaboration aims to gain approval for EHang’s eVTOL model in Saudi Arabia, moving the company one step closer to commercialising its air taxi services in the region.

EHang’s local trials

EHang’s EH216-S has been making waves globally. It received Chinese certification in October 2023 and approval for series production in April 2024, becoming the first eVTOL to receive a type certificate for unmanned aerial vehicle operations.

This certification allows EHang to carry out commercial passenger-carrying UAV operations, a significant step towards widespread adoption.

The trial in Mecca follows a similar demonstration in Abu Dhabi, where EHang showcased its EH216-S, along with other models designed for firefighting and aerial logistics. These trials are essential for establishing the necessary regulatory framework to deploy pilotless eVTOL aircraft in low-risk airspaces.

Future prospects

EHang’s EH216-S air taxi is designed to transport two passengers with a maximum cargo capacity of 485 pounds (220 kilograms).

Its compact size—1.85 meters in height and 5.63 metres in width—makes it ideal for urban environments. With a battery charging time of less than 10 minutes to go from 30 per cent to 80 per cent, the EH216-S is poised to offer efficient and sustainable transportation solutions.

In addition to its groundbreaking flights in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, EHang is also expanding its reach in the tourism sector.

The company recently signed a deal to sell 50 of its electric aerial vehicles (EAVs) to Xishan Tourism, with plans to sell an additional 450 EAVs over the next two years for aerial tourism and passenger transportation.

Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia is exploring the potential of air taxis to perform a variety of functions, from transporting medical equipment and facilitating emergency travel to moving pilgrims between sacred locations and supporting logistical operations.

Majid Alghaslan, chairman and CEO of Front End, emphasised, “Aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, our goal is to foster a ‘Connected Kingdom’, serving as a gateway for our partners to access growth opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the wider region.”

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